Light v. Board of Ed. of Town of Lebanon

Decision Date23 December 1975
Citation364 A.2d 229,170 Conn. 35
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court

Martin A. Gould, Hartford, for appellant (plaintiff).

Thomas N. Sullivan, New Haven, for appellee (defendant).


COTTER, Associate Justice.

The plaintiff, a nontenured teacher, sought inter alia a writ of mandamus ordering that she be retained as a certified employee of the defendant board of education. She claimed that the defendant's nonrenewal of her contract was in violation of the provisions of General Statutes § 10-151 and her due process rights. The defendant filed a demurrer to these two counts of the complaint, which the trial court overruled, and to the plaintiff's prayer for a writ of mandamus, which the court sustained. The plaintiff did not plead over and, on motion of the defendant, judgment was entered in its favor, from which the plaintiff appealed.

Although the plaintiff in her prayer for relief sought in addition to mandamus reimbursement for lost salaries and '(s)uch other appropriate relief as the court may deem proper,' she did not pursue such remedies but chose, in not continuing with her cause of action, to rely solely on whether a writ of mandamus was proper, which issue is her only assignment of error. She alleged, inter alia, that the defendant failed 'to renew her contract' to teach in the town of Lebanon and that, although she was given a hearing by the board of education, she was not afforded her statutory and constitutional rights. She did not seek a declaratory judgment that her nonrenewal was illegal, nor did she seek to enjoin the board from terminating her contract of employment. Instead, the only specific remedies she sought were a writ of mandamus to compel the board to reinstate her, as well as reimbursement for lost salaries.

Since the plaintiff chose not to plead further after the demurrer to her prayer for mandamus was sustained, and judgment, as entered, was required for the defendant, Leger v. Lelley, 142 Conn. 585, 587, 116 A.2d 429, we are limited to deciding solely whether the trial court erred in sustaining the demurrer, Maltbie, Conn.App.Proc. § 13; Stamford Dock & Realty Corporation v. Stamford, 124 Conn. 341, 342 n. 1, 200 A. 343. The demurrer in this case tests whether the allegations of the complaint state a good cause of action for mandamus. Senior v. Hope, 156 Conn. 92, 96, 239 A.2d 486.

A 'writ of mandamus is an extraordinary remedy, to be applied only under exceptional conditions, and is not to be extended beyond its well-established limits.' Raslavsky v. Moore, 167 Conn. 363, 367, 355 A.2d 273, citing Lahiff v. St. Joseph's Total Abstinence Society, 76 Conn. 648, 651, 57 A. 692, and Chatfield Co. v. Reeves, 87 Conn. 63, 64, 86 A. 750; Milford Education Assn. v. Board of Education, 167 Conn. 513, 518, 356 A.2d 109. See Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137, 2 L.Ed. 60. 'The writ of mandamus is designed to enforce a plain positive duty, upon the relation of one who has a clear legal right to have it performed, and where there is no other adequate legal remedy.' Milford Education Assn. v. Board of Education, supra, 11, 356 A.2d 109, citing State v. New Haven & Northampton Co., 45 Conn. 331, 343. Consequently, a writ of mandamus will not lie to direct performance of an act requiring the exercise of a public officer's judgment or discretion, Waterbury Teachers Assn. v. Furlong, 162 Conn. 390, 414, 294 A.2d 546; Ballas v. Woodin, 155 Conn. 283, 284, 231 A.2d 273; Boyko v. Weiss, 147 Conn. 183, 186, 158 A.2d 253; State ex rel. Scala v. Airport Commission, 154 Conn. 168, 176, 224 A.2d 236; State ex rel. Gold v. Usher, 138 Conn. 323, 326, 84 A.2d 276, nor will it lie to review a discretionary action of a public officer or board and compel a different course of action, Simmons v. Budds, 165 Conn. 507, 516, 338 A.2d 479; Hannifan v. Sachs, 150 Conn. 162, 167, 187 A.2d 253; State ex rel. Heimov v. Thomson, 131 Conn. 8, 12, 37 A.2d 689. Thus, use of mandamus 'is justified only when necessary to supplement the deficiencies of ordinary legal processes' and when 'the aggrieved party has no adequate remedy either at law or in equity,' Milford Education Assn. v. Board of Education, supra, 356 A.2d 109, citing State ex rel. Howard v. Hartford Street Ry. Co., 76 Conn. 174, 184, 56 A. 506, and Bassett v. Atwater, 65 Conn. 355, 32 A. 937.

In an action for mandamus, the aggrieved party has the burden of proving deprivation of a 'clear legal right,' Simmons v. Budds, supra; Waterbury Teachers Assn. v. Furlong, supra; Boyko v. Weiss, supra, and in the instant case the plaintiff has failed to meet that burden. The defendant board of education is charged with the duty of employing and dismissing teachers, General Statutes § 10-220, in accordance with the procedures established by General Statutes § 10-151. 1 The plaintiff contends that the alleged violation of this statute in not renewing her contract means that she has a 'clear legal right' to reinstatement by a writ of mandamus. We cannot agree. 2

It has been recognized that matters concerning the employment of teachers require the board of education to exercise a broad discretion which will not be interfered with by mandamus. 52 Am.Jur.2d, Mandamus, § 241. The board of education is called upon to review the teacher's record and qualifications and to make the decision on this basis. Plainly, that sort of review requires exercise of discretion and is not a purely ministerial act. See, e.g., State ex rel. Scala v. Airport Commission, supra; Boyko v. Weiss, supra. As this court recently stated, when considering renewal of an employment contract, a board of education is an administrative agency, acting in a quasi-judicial capacity. Miller v. Board of Education, 166 Conn. 189, 191, 348 A.2d 584. As such, it exercises discretion in weighing evidence, judging credibility of witnesses, finding facts and making conclusions. Conley v. Board of Education, 143 Conn. 488, 492, 123 A.2d 747. Thus, the decision to renew a contract of a nontenured teacher is one which calls for the exercise of judgment and discretion by the board. For these reasons, a writ of mandamus to compel reinstatement is not available 'to enforce a contract even though its performance necessarily devolves on a public official.' Milford Education Assn. v. Board of Education, supra, 356 A.2d 109. A writ of mandamus will not issue to enforce a right or duty arising out of a contract for in such a case the party usually has an adequate legal remedy and this court among others has steadily refused to extend this remedy into the domain of contract rights. Id., 12; Chatfield Co. v. Reeves, supra; Hannifan v. Sachs, supra; Andrews v. New Haven, 153 Conn. 156, 159, 215 A.2d 102; Porter v. Bloomsburg State College, 450 Pa. 375, 301 A.2d 621, cert. denied, 414 U.S. 844, 94 S.Ct. 105, 38 L.Ed.2d 82; Taylor v. Marshall, 12 Cal.App. 549, 107 P. 1012; Jackson v. Board of Trustees of Junior College District No. 530, 22 Ill.App.3d 898, 317 N.E.2d 318; State ex rel. Sittler v. Board of Education of Town of Gallup, 18 N.M. 183, 135 P. 96; McDonald v. Stockton Metropolitan Transit District, 36 Cal.App.3d 436, 111 Cal.Rptr. 637; Tevis v. City and County of San Francisco, 43 Cal.2d 190, 272 P.2d 757; Parrotta v. Hederson, 315 Mass. 416, 53 N.E.2d 97; Jones v. House of Reformation, 176 Md. 43, 3 A.2d 728; Waxenbaum v. Seward Park Housing Corporation, 24 Misc.2d 35, 201 N.Y.S.2d 849; Strank v. Mercy Hospital of Johnstown, 376 Pa. 305, 102 A.2d 170; State ex rel. Burg v. Milwaukee Medical College, 128 Wis. 7, 106 N.W. 116; 52 Am.Jur.2d, Mandamus, § 69; 55 C.J.S. Mandamus § 56. If the plaintiff was denied a proper hearing to which she had a chear legal right, mandamus would lie to compel the board to hold a hearing in conformity with the statutes, but not to compel reinstatement. She has not asked for a new or proper hearing by means of mandamus but only for reinstatement, a remedy for which mandamus will not lie under the circumstances of this case.

As we said in the recent Milford Education Assn. v. Board of Education case, enforcement of teachers' contract rights 'could easily have been attained in a simple action for breach of contract or by an action for a declaratory judgment and consequential relief. Practice Book §§ 307-313; New Haven Water Co. v. New Haven, 131 Conn. 456, 464, 40 A.2d 763. The existence of such clear alternative and adequate remedies at law precludes the use of mandamus in such a case as this.' Id., 362 A.2d 1354. See also State ex rel. Golembeske v. White, 168 Conn. 278, 362 A.2d 1354; Huggins v. Mulvey, 160 Conn. 559, 560, 280 A.2d 364; Basney v. Sachs, 132 Conn. 207, 209, 43 A.2d 449; State ex rel. Heimov v. Thomson, supra, 131 Conn. 13, 37 A.2d 689; State ex rel. Foote v. Bartholomew, 103 Conn. 607, 618, 132 A. 30; Atwood v. Partree, 56 Conn. 80, 83, 14 A. 85; Wheeler v. Bedford, 54 Conn. 244, 249, 7 A. 22; Asylum v. Phoenix Bank, 4 Conn. 172, 178.

For these reasons, we conclude that the plaintiff did not lack an adequate remedy short of mandamus to correct an alleged improper termination of her employment contract. Milford Education Assn. v. Board of Education, supra, 356 A.2d 109.

The decision of the trial court sustaining the defendant's demurrer as to the prayer for a writ of mandamus cannot be disturbed.

There is no error.

In this opinion HOUSE, C.J., and LOISELLE and MacDONALD, JJ., concurred.

BOGDANSKI, Associate Justice (dissenting).

I do not agree that the trial court properly sustained the demurrer to the prayer for a writ of mandamus.

The issuance of a writ of mandamus rests in the sound discretion of the trial court exercised in accordance with recognized principles of law. State ex rel. Donahue v. Holbrook, 136 Conn. 691, 693, 73 A.2d 924. The writ may properly issue when a plaintiff has a clear legal right to...

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